It’s funny that even Ubisoft sees how overtly layered their own games have become with the “grind” and have thus resorted to the “Educational” mode as a solution in Assassin’s Creed: Origins. The mode will allow players to bypass all combat and challenges within the game, and instead play through the game as an edutainment title, simply going around exploring locations, learning about history, and going on what basically amounts to a virtual tour of Egypt.
Sites like Rock, Paper, Shotgun are not only praising Ubisoft for the “Educational” mode, but have taken that extra step to encourage other developers to implement more features that bypass actual gameplay… such as a “Boss Skip” button. Why not encourage them to bring back real cheat codes so you can skip or breeze through the boss fights at your own leisure?
Anyway, John Walker from Rock, Paper, Shotgun writes…
“I know an awful lot of what’s made gaming culture such a miserably toxic environment over the last few years is deeply wrapped up in subjects like this, and those who spread the toxicity are those most likely to be on the side of condemning gaming options that remove challenge, that make the hobby more accessible to the crowds. But at the same time, I’m not going to allow that sewage to pollute my opinions, and my delight in expressing those opinions, and I’ve long been arguing that gaming can be a far better place if the industry would only introduce the “Skip Boss Fight” button.”
The thing is, Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s claim that adding more ways to not play the game would somehow make gaming more inclusive is the same sort of argument we’ve seen with journalists saying adding more playable women to AAA action titles would allow publishers to reach 50% more of the consumer base. We’ve seen that such a tactic hasn’t really worked out that well for some developers, such as Agents of Mayhem or Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate. In other cases like Horizon: Zero Dawn the game hasn’t sold anymore than The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the latter of which stars a male character. For clarity: gender swapping doesn’t instantaneously equate to “50% more sales”.
The same logic applies to throwing in casual features like a “boss skip” button. Sure, game developers could add in that feature (and some games have already done this, like Castlevania: Lords of Shadow allowing you to skip the puzzles entirely, or Resident Evil 6 allowing you to mostly skip through the cinematic QTEs).
The thing is, adding in these options don’t magically make casuals want to play the games. Sure some might, but it seems silly to harangue about the necessity of a feature to make people feel at ease with the way they want to play for something that’s inherent to the gameplay experience.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s argument is two-fold, though. The second half of the argument is that people should be able to play as they want. Walker writes…
“In 2009 I suggested it was daft that I’m not able to just skip ahead while playing game, like I could in a film, book, or TV show. “
Sure games could allow you to fast forward (and if you play emulated titles the option is there to speed up the game) but the difference between films, books, TV shows and video games is that all of the former mediums are passive media while the latter is interactive media. Movies and TV shows aren’t meant to offer a challenge other than vicariously taking your emotions along for the ride (for better or for worse). You’re a passenger, not a participant.
Games are different because you’re active. Your choices matter. Your skills matter. Without choices or skill, then the challenge is lost and games then become passive, like TV or movies. Once a game is no longer interactive, then sure you should be able to skip through them because it’s no longer a actively participatory experience but rather a passive one. The whole point of an interactive entertainment medium is the “interactive” part, and when you begin taking that away it’s no longer an interactive means of entertainment.
Ubisoft adding in the non-combat mode is a similar feature to paying not to play, but it’s more direct and free (for now). The boss skip button would work in similar fashion to the methods already available in most AAA games that have cash shop items for XP boosts, the option to max out your character’s abilities, or the option to purchase a cheat weapon to easily and quickly kill all on-screen foes, sort of like the ‘Merica Gun from Saints Row IV, which is part of a microtransaction DLC pack. It essentially removes the challenge.
This instantly brings rise to the question: why are you playing a challenging game if not for the challenge?
Walker rounds out the piece by praising the removal of said challenge in favor of something attuned for the casual player just passing by, writing…
“So hooray for Ubisoft! Hooray for taking all the challenge and difficulty from a game for people who prefer games without challenges and difficulty! Hooray for skipping the boring bits to enjoy more of the fun! Hooray for people being allowed to enjoy a game in a different way from you! Hooray for the riff-raff!”
It seems awfully similar to recent editorials by game journalists excoriating gamers for “fetishsizing skill” or that gamers just don’t understand how “game journalism” works, or taking digs at the “git gud” subculture of gaming.
Part of the issue is that while Walker can most certainly have his opinion about gaming, it feels like an opinion that is more anti-gaming than pro-gaming. An attempt to socially re-engineer the way games are packaged for people who don’t particularly like video games.
If you head into a game with boss fights and you’re keen on skipping all the boss fights, then why play that game? Even in Walker’s own editorial he brings up how a “Boss Skip” button moots the point of even popping in a title like Dark Souls since majority of the game is just boss fights.
Ultimately, people can vie for a “Boss Skip” button all they want, but it leaves me with this question: If the objective is to add modes that take away the challenge and interactivity of the game, then what exactly are you playing the game for?